Lighting up in the ’50s: When smoking was cheap and trendy

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Smoking was the biggest trend in the world before everyone realised its health implications. Source: Getty.

From being able to smoke onboard airplanes to not being able to light a cigarette inside any public building in the country, Baby Boomers have seen the popularity and acceptance of tobacco rise and fall throughout their time.

In light of ‘World No Tobacco Day’, which took place on Friday, let’s take a trip down memory lane at how different life was for smokers in the 1950s.

Unlike today’s gritty and gruesome advertisements warning about the dangers of smoking, ads of the ’50s glorified the idea of cigarettes. The tobacco industry was booming and, even though research was already underway concerning the link between smoking and lung cancer, people were hooked.

Despite word getting out that cigarettes might not be as good for your health as tobacco companies might have had you believe, many popular brands were quick to dispute the claims with long-running ads on TV and in print.

Camel famously fought bad press by running an ad where a doctor spoke about his preference for their particular cigarettes. While the whole concept would seem almost comical today, the campaign was widely popular for the brand and even ran for eight years.

Brands made sure their product wasn’t going to be affected by the scientific claims by creating plenty of campaigns which featured beautiful women and well-kept business men with cigarettes in their hands, using light and fun slogans like: “Let your throat enjoy smooth smoking”,  “Smoke a fresh cigarette”, and of course the classic, “Smoking is Believing”.

Cigarettes were easily accessible and incredibly cheap in the 1950s with Australians paying the equivalent of about $5 for a packet that they would pay $20 for today. They were also one of the biggest trends of the time with every major Hollywood movie star from James Dean to Audrey Hepburn never leaving the house without a cigarette in hand.

Other than the national smoking ban onboard flights in 1987, state smoking bans in Australia kicked off in 1995 with Australian Capital Territory making the first move to ban smoking in restaurants. This was then quickly followed by a string of anti-smoking laws that have led up to the strict legislation we see today that includes a ban on lighting up anywhere within a four metre radius of a public space.

However, before the dangers of tobacco and second hand smoke were well-known to the world, smoking was allowed absolutely everywhere. Most Baby Boomers will remember the days of sitting in clouds of smoke basically everywhere they went. From airplanes to restaurants to shopping centres to transit centres – it was almost impossible to escape.

Today, the dangers of smoking are common knowledge and the combination of bans and anti-smoking ads means the number of smokers nationwide has drastically reduced. Not only have the laws changed, but so has public perception of it all. No longer is smoking a cool thing that you do to be more like your favourite Hollywood actor but rather a serious health threat that needs to be treated as such.

Do you remember flying or eating out before the smoking ban? What do you think is the biggest difference between now and then?

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